9 September 2022 · Mazda Australia News
Mazda CX-9 - Smooth On Snow With All-Wheel Drive (AWD)
A seasoned skier takes his adventures to a new level of luxury in Mazda’s flagship all-wheel drive (AWD) SUV, the CX-9. Read on as Stephen Corby describes his real-life experiences firsthand while driving through the snowy roads, putting on modern diamond-style car tyre chains, loading the car's cavernous amount of storage space and more.
Snow driving taken to a new level
The remarkable thing about skiing is that anyone does it at all. Sure, it makes sense, and makes you smile, on sunny, blue-sky days, but many seemingly sane human beings will ski when it’s raining sharp pieces of ice, or blizzarding to the point where you can’t see, or when it’s 20 below zero.
Skiing can, in fact, feel like a war between you and the weather - Mother Nature just feels like she really doesn’t want you up there, getting in her face, some days, and like she’s attempting to blow you right back down to earth.
It can be the same story with driving yourself, and all your gear, to the bottom of those hail-hammered slopes at times - a battle between man, machine and elements. Grip can range from variable to barely extant, black ice is to motorists what giant squids were to early seafarers, and visibility can be wild and woeful.
Which is why it was with a sense of almost delirious disbelief and unbridled joy, then, that I undertook a recent trip to Thredbo in the flagship Mazda CX-9 Azami LE, a vehicle that made the whole journey feel not just effortless but beyond luxurious.
Luxurious car interior, a heated steering wheel and safety
Even when the weather turned on its wildest maelstrom-of-madness settings, the Mazda’s all-wheel-drive traction meant I felt a level of safety and security that was completely and pleasantly at odds with my previous trips to the snow.
Indeed, for the first time I can remember, even my hands stayed warm, at all times, thanks to the heated steering wheel – a very welcome addition fitted as standard among many other creature comforts like powered seat adjustment and three-zone air conditioning.
In the earliest years of my mad fascination with skiing at 19 years old, I would attempt to reach the Snowy Mountains, from my home in Canberra, in various vehicles so poorly designed for the task that I might almost have been better off on a bicycle; certainly a bus would have been superior.
I drove cars with no functioning heaters, panel gaps, rattling seats and very nearly bald tyres. I remember sliding out of control into a small creek near the Perisher car park on one occasion, albeit very slowly. There was almost as much laughter inside the car as screaming.
If you are not fortunate enough to be born with a silver ski pole in your mouth, you’ll also no doubt have noticed that skiing is the world’s most expensive sport, aside from super-yacht racing and the Faberge Egg Race.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that as you gradually acquire more wealth, you creep closer to the snow and that, once you’ve done so, there is no going back. In my 20s, I would rise before dawn to drive through the kangaroo-filled stretches of the Monaro Highway, park on the side of a road somewhere to wrestle with some poorly designed snow chains, scrabble my way up to a car park, ski all day and collapse back into the cold, uncomfortable vehicle for the schlep and slide back down the mountain and home.
A few years later, I invested in staying at Jindabyne, a mere 30km from the slopes, and felt like I’d won the lottery. Oh, the unimaginable luxury of being able to sleep in until 7am and still make the first lift of the day.
Today, I find myself living large, like a rock star, and staying almost close enough to the lifts at Thredbo to ski in and ski out, with a garage to save us the hassle of removing snow from the Mazda’s glistening Jet Black Mica bonnet.
7 seat SUV and its great storage capacity
I decided to share this joy with an old mate who still lives in Canberra. I picked up Tony and his unfeasibly large amount of snowboarding gear, in my large and striking CX-9, and watched his eyes widen in admiration.
Even before he’d realised his passenger seat was heated - a moment that made him settle as happily as a dog in front of a roaring fire - he was blown away by the Mazda’s interior, comparing its lashings of white leather, quality fittings and quilted seats to what he imagined a vehicle costing four times as much would feel like inside.
As we had left the children at home, we had no need for the exceptionally luxurious captain’s chairs adorning the second-row (the key differentiator between seven-seat Azami and Azami LE specification in the Mazda CX-9 range), but with the seats folded down we could fit our photographer, his many accoutrements, two snowboards, a set of skis and a lot of boots, jackets, gloves and so forth, and we still had room for someone to sit in the back with a nice arm rest of their own.
Superior car safety and snow chains
We also found ample space for a set of snow chains, despite the fact that the law in NSW says that four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles do not require them to enter National Parks in winter, although “it is recommended that you carry chains with you, and fit the chains to your car when driving on ice and snow”.
Feeling entirely superior, I drove all the way to Thredbo Village without even considering putting the chains on.
Our all-wheel-drive CX-9 easily and instantly shifts torque to the wheel where it’s needed and the sense of immense stability was reassuring. At no stage was there a hint of slippage, even as it rained sideways on us, and little rivers began to form across the road.
The Mazda’s 2.5-litre, turbocharged petrol engine, with 170kW and 420Nm of torque, also made light work of the constantly climbing road, while the steering ensured the many bends, even in inclement conditions, were enjoyable, with lovely, sharp feedback through the wheel.
The next day, as the wind blew up a fit fierce enough to shut most of the lifts and the rain turned, thankfully, to snow, we decided to explore the higher ranges and headed up over Dead Horse Gap, the high point of the Great Dividing Range.
Up there, the snow was thick all around us, and on the road, softening the sounds around us and providing a pretty wonderland to explore. It also felt like time to tackle the job of putting snow chains on, one that I’d not tried for many years.
Fitting show chains couldn't be easier
Indeed, it had been so long that the technology has changed from the chains I remembered, which you had to lay down on the road like some kind of accursed chainmail, before driving onto them and then commencing to swear long and loud as you attempted to connect them by hugging the muddy tyre and removing all the skin from your knuckles.
The result was usually a mixture of mud, blood and possibly even some tears.
Happily, the more modern diamond-style tyre chains have clearly been created by someone who’d had enough of the old design and, as you can see in the video above, they’re actually surprisingly easy to fit.
(Look, I’m not going to pretend I nailed it first time, and there may have been a point at which I wondered, aloud, if we could find a seasoned professional to help me, but in the end, getting it right was hugely satisfying.)
Driving with chains on (they go on the front wheels in the CX-9’s case, by the way, as it uses a predominantly front-drive, all-wheel-drive system) is slightly noisy, and slow, of course, but if the conditions are particularly heavy they do provide that extra level of safety.
We whipped ours off again pretty quickly and just went back to enjoying our all-wheel-drive traction, and the incredibly warm and cosseting cabin.
Returning home after a new snow driving experience
After finally getting some skiing in the next day, we piled everything back into the capacious Mazda and headed down the hill as the sun was setting, turning the snow pink and sparkling off the rushing Snowy River.
That drive down was one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole trip as the road was actually dry and I could really hustle the CX-9 through the bends, enjoying its nice, flat cornering attitude and the sharp responses.
I think I could really get used to going skiing like this. Next year, hopefully, I’ll be driving up to the snow in Japan instead.
Follow the lead and take your adventures to the next level with the unparallel luxury offered by our all-wheel drive (AWD) SUV range. Enjoy the comfort of the car interior commodities, including a heated steering wheel, immense storage capacity, powerful towing ability and more. Whether your adventures are in winter or the summer, our car ranges will provide safety and enjoyment in all your driving experiences.